For the next five years, France’s president-elect François Hollande of the Socialist Party will go by “Monsieur le Président.” But in this central France town of about 16,000, where he has been in politics for about 30 years, he will always be known as “François.” Residents here know him by his first name – and he knows theirs.
Mr. Hollande toured polling stations in Tulle and other nearby villages on election day. As was his habit when he was a local elected leader here, Hollande visited Tulle’s two markets on May 5, the day before the election, asking shoppers and local food producers how they were doing, shaking men’s hands, and kissing ladies on the cheeks amid a crowd of reporters.
The atmosphere was lighthearted and optimistic, with Hollande ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, but some residents worried that it might well be the last time they saw "François" at the markets. As president, he would have very little time, if any, to come visit them.
Although not from the area originally, Hollande has been a political fixture there for decades. He served as a representative in the lower chamber of parliament for Corrèze, the rural area where Tulle sits, from 1988 to 1993 and again from 1997 until now. He was president of Corrèze’s general council – a position equivalent to county manager – from 2008 until now and served as mayor of Tulle from 2001 to 2008.
While Hollande walked the open-air market by the town’s cathedral on the unexpectedly sunny day, one petite and elegant older lady waited for him near the market entrance. Wearing a red dress and a white wool cardigan with gold buttons, the older lady had been standing there for over an hour, repeatedly asking reporters whether they knew what time “François” would come.
When Hollande finally got close to her after posing for photographs with supporters, she tried to catch his attention as he spoke to someone else. “Will you invite me to the Elysée?” she called out, referring to France’s presidential palace. Hollande didn’t hear her over the cheering supporters and journalists shouting questions.
Walking along the market stands soon after, Hollande told reporters that just because he was likely to become president didn’t mean he would forget those who live here, and that even if he was less available, Tulle residents should be reassured that one of their own would be leading the country.
“Tulle residents won’t miss me,” Hollande said. “If I lose, they will see me and if I win they will see me even more.”
On election night, about an hour after the announcement of his win, Hollande gave his first presidential address here, right by the cathedral, only a few feet away from the open-air market. Just before he concluded his speech, he thanked his first constituents.
“Finally, I greet my department of Corrèze,” he said, to which the crowd responded with nearly 30 seconds of chants and applause. “I owe you everything.”
Hollande was elected president with 51.63 percent of the votes nationally, according to results published by France’s Interior Ministry. He scored 65 percent of the vote in Corrèze and 76 percent in Tulle.